Saturday, July 6, 2013

Major Influences on Dad's Writing, 1976

In a 1976 letter to Chris Cannon who handled publicity for Friendly Fire at G P Putnam's Sons

J Bryan III

  I suppose the major teacher of the craft has been my father, J. ( Joseph) Bryan III, who was an associate editor of the Saturday Evening Post for years, has written several non-fiction books, a biography of Admiral William F. Halsey, P.T. Barnum, and many articles in the old Post, Colliers, Life, Esquire and more recently the old Holiday and now Travel & Leisure.

William Maxwell
The man who had has the most influence on my style of writing has been Bill Maxwell of the New Yorker and Seymour Glass who wrote his younger brother: "If only you'd remember before you ever sit down to write that you've been a reader long before you were ever a writer. You simply fix that fact in your mind, then sit very still and ask yourself, as a reader, what piece of writing in all the world Buddy Glass would most want to read if he had his heart's choice. The next step is terrible but so simple I can barely believe it as I write it. You just sit down shamelessly and write the thing yourself."( Salinger's Seymour: An Introduction).

    While I'm at it, let me throw in two more: the first was a quote passed across his desk to me at the New Yorker by Bill Maxwell, it's by W.B. Yeats: "Only that which does not teach, which does not cry out, which does not condescend, which does not explain is irresistible." I now have that framed and hanging on my roll top like an exhortation from Chairman Mao.
W B Yeats

    The other is from an interview with Anthony Powell in a recent NYTBR which helps to explain the why and how of writing: "The great thing about writing is its two stages: first trying to make yourself understand; then, putting it to other people. The first is the most difficult."
Anthony Powell

   There had to be some way to understand the Vietnam War, to contain it in a frame of reference I ( we) could deal with. The point of Friendly Fire, or certainly a point, is that there is no enemy, there is only war.